52 Exercises: #19 Ocean Swim with Unwanted Depression

Ocean swim and depression

Tess has been a good friend but I think I’ve pushed our friendship to the limit this time.

She took me jogging, played bat and ball with me and now she’s agreed to join me for an ocean swim despite a fear of sharks and big waves.

Normally I’d dismiss her fears as absurd but we live in Australia.

Noosa Main Beach occasionally gets closed because of shark sightings, the surf can get gnarly and, despite the vigilance and bravery of our lifesavers, swimmers regularly drown on the Sunshine Coast.

None of that scares me though. What I’m worried about is getting cold.

So I’m cursing myself for leaving our ocean swim so late in the year. It’s the end of April and there’s a slight chill in the air so we decide to swim at midday when the air and water temperature will be at their warmest.

This is our third attempt at an ocean swim but the first time we’ve actually made it to the beach so it’s unfortunate that the surf’s up with a swell that Coastal Watch clocks at 1.5-3 meters (5-7.5 feet) high.

It doesn’t look too bad to me but Tess is worried so we go to the lifeguard tower to check with our friendly local lifeguard who can only give us the official line: swim between the flags.

But playing it safe isn’t in my plan; we’re challenging ourselves to swim from Noosa Main beach to Little Cove which is well beyond the flags.


Our swimming route from Noosa Main Beach (A) to Little Cove (B)

Tess looks worried but after a bit of dilly dallying we take the plunge.

My fear’s immediately banished because the water isn’t even cold. It feels good and when I check later it’s 23°C or 73°F. Positively balmy.

Noosa Main Beach to Little Cove is only a 500 meter swim, so it’s more of a psychological test than a physical challenge, but it involves getting past the surf, beyond the surfers at First Point and onto the beach safely. It also involves at least one poor swimmer – me.

Tess is worried I’ll race off without here but I’ve promised her I’m a hopeless swimmer and it’s no lie.

I’ll be going slowly, keeping my head above water and doing breast stroke. It’s a style I’ve perfected in the local pool and call granny laps. Noosa is home to the super fit so when I swim in the public pool almost everyone overtakes me including swarms of school children, a man with one leg and of course amazing grannies who would not be seen dead doing granny laps.

Thankfully Tess and I are the only swimmers today so we can avoid being competitive and focus our energies on not drowning – or rather not having to be rescued and ending up as another rescue statistic in the local paper.

We start off strong, powering slowly out past the breakers until we’re level with the surfers at First Point. They eye us off with suspicion.

Tess is lagging behind so I encourage her on.

“We’re half way there!” I say.

“So this is a bad time to get cramp?” she asks.

“No,” I say “It’s a great time. There’s a gorgeous surfer right behind you who I‘ll save you.”

Heartened we swim on, although I am slightly worried the surfer really is going to paddle over and ask if we need rescuing.

We swim on, and on, and on, as fast as we can, but we don’t seem to be getting anywhere. There seems to be a strong rip pulling us away from Little Cove where we want to go and the granny laps swim style doesn’t seem to be doing much.

I fear we’ll have to give up on the challenge. I fear Tess will need to be rescued. I fear we’ll make it to Little Cove but end up getting flung on to the rocks by a big wave.

I think about the therapist’s claims that mindfulness will fix all my problems. As you can see I’m a tad skeptical (let’s blame that on the depression) but also desperate enough to try anything. I’m at the stage where my endless stream of negative thoughts are so disturbing I’d go for a lobotomy if they hadn’t proved to be even worse than mental illness.

But I haven’t got time for negative thoughts now. All I can think about is swimming.

My excellent impression of someone who is not at all scared and thoroughly looking forward to an ocean swim

My excellent impression of someone who is not at all scared and thoroughly looking forward to an ocean swim

And slowly we make progress. It takes us 30 minutes to swim the final 250 meters but eventually we can touch the bottom. Finally we step on to the beach and sigh. I resist kissing the sand and pretend I was never scared.

But I need to make sure the next exercise I take Tess on is a bit less demanding for both of us. It’s good to push your limits but I want to aim for activities that make me mindful, not fearful.

Depression is a bit like an ocean rip sweeping you out to sea. When you’re caught in a rip you have to try to remember the safety tips: don’t swim against the current, swim across it parallel to the beach and raise one hand to show you need help. Above all don’t panic, keep breathing and keep treading water.

Like ocean rips depression takes you surprise and pulls you out deep. Caught out you can’t think straight and feel confused. But it should all be okay as long as you stay calm, keep breathing and wait until you get washed up back on the beach.

Life isn’t just a case of sink or swim; it’s not just about failing or succeeding. Anyone can get caught out by depression and sometimes you just need to focus on staying afloat.

But here you can see the fear...

How I really felt.

Do you like swimming? With or without rips and sharks?


Ocean Swim Exercise Review

Cost: $0. Though you’ll probably need some swimwear!

Time Exercising: 40 minutes plus 40 minutes psyching ourselves up and taking photos to prove we did it.

Average Heart Rate: No idea.

Fun Factor: 7/10.

Fear Factor: 7/10.

Post-exercise Glow: 7/10.


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  1. Linda ~ Journey Jottings May 9, 2013 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    I was very brave last week and went swimming (check out my new profile photo on FB for proof LOL)
    But I only jumped up and down in the waves – But as it was the first time I’ve even been in shark infested oceans for yonks – I was duly proud :)

    Love your analogy!

    • Annabel Candy May 10, 2013 at 9:41 am - Reply

      Hi Linda,

      Oh well done! I hope you had fun. I love it once I’m in….

  2. Aisha from Expatlog May 9, 2013 at 11:54 pm - Reply

    ‘Sometimes you just need to focus on staying afloat’ yep, that really resonated with me. I recently had to scale back on my activities because I was putting greater and greater pressure on myself. Somewhere, at some unknown point it ceased being a motivating force and became a drain – sucking my confidence and my self-belief out of me so I felt like I was failing, instead of firing, on all cylinders.
    Sitting at the beach yesterday while my three-year-old daughter hurled rocks into Lake Ontario, I mused I feel best when my day holds no ‘requirements’ – when it stretches ahead of me to be filled with whatever I choose; that’s when I’m at my most creative and content – but really, how realistic is that???
    Hang in there and keep writing these brilliant posts, you’re an inspiration.

    • Annabel Candy May 10, 2013 at 9:43 am - Reply

      Hi Aisha,

      That’s a brilliant question. It should be realistic. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask to me.

      Maybe we need a new goal of doing next to nothing. I would love to join you for some stone throwing and wandering by the water – it sounds great :)

  3. Catherine White May 10, 2013 at 6:28 am - Reply

    What a great little read — I was really the with you on the journey. Life is about staying afloat, at least when we’re floating we are still in the game. Only a few hours ago a friend and I were chatting about the need for perspective, and how that changes with age. Not that either one of us are old by any stretch, but the mid-years are treacherous. That said, we agreed one of the benefits of this time is enjoying the freedom perspective gives you. As he put it, you learn to relish the clearings along the way, knowing from experience that the tide comes in, and the tide goes out. Life never stays the same — whatever our doldrums when it’s out. (BTW… my friend I referred to has only one arm and is a proficient deep sea diver)

    • Annabel Candy May 10, 2013 at 9:51 am - Reply

      Hi Catherine,

      Oh I laughed when I got to the end and learned the discussion was with a one armed deep-sea diver. How brilliant.

      I would like to join you for some of these talks and love your analogy of the tide going in and out. I got caught out because I thought I was mistress of the tides but them turned out to be way more powerful than me. Of course!

      A huge part of the problem for me is the word old and middle-aged which I note you cleverly avoided here. I am currently running with the word advanced.

      Inspiration for the new Get In the Hot Spot slogan ‘Advanced Adventures for Body and Soul’ came from the book Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen about women (and some men) who are enjoying their later years with panache. Have you read it?!

      My mission is to help us make sure the second half of our lives are filled with adventure, fun and contentment. I will be looking to you and your amazing friends for advice :)

  4. Catherine White May 10, 2013 at 10:19 am - Reply

    You must forgive my typos, but most of the time I am on my phone, which one hopes will eventually have a braille feature…. LOL!

    BTW — you look hot in that little top and bikini.

    • Annabel Candy May 10, 2013 at 10:37 am - Reply

      Don’t worry Catherine, I fixed up one tiny typo. Impressed you can write all that on your phone. Thank you, that’s my tankini for serious swimming ;)

  5. Love it Annabel, your writing is just sublime in this post, and it’s so amusing and thought provoking too.

    Honestly, I found ocean swimming just marvellous for keeping me in the moment. Fear is part of it, and having lots of fishies to look at. Actually fear if a big part of it, I hadn’t been scared in that way for years and I loved how my senses were sharpened.

    Having said that, it really is a bit nippy down here in Sydney, so I may not be in for a splash for a wee while.

    Have had a struggle this week as the wrench of leaving the UK is huge, the relief to be home huge too, the guilt huge and the children behaving appallingly… and no husband… BUT much better today.

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